While Latin America's diverse and often squabbling family of nations has provided a high level of political support for the new Nicaraguan government, the financial help that the revolution needs more desperately has been slow in coming.
Since taking power July 20, officials of the government appointed by the Sandinista guerrillas have spent a large part of their time receiving delegations from nearly every Latin country as well as others from throughout the world.
Most of the visitors have offered approval in varying degrees of the way Nicaragua is moving and nodded concern over the economic emergency. Few, however, have taken out their checkbooks.
"The aid from Latin America," a foreign diplomat said, "has been embarrassingly small."
Although some countries have extended import and development loans and credits, the diplomat said, "It's all been on semi-hard to hard terms"-- with early repayment dates and high interest. "Nobody is doing them any favors."
If present plans work out, by far the biggest aid donor to Nicaragua will be the United States. Thus far, Washington has distributed approximately $7 million in emergency food and medical supplies.
In development and reconstruction assistance, the U.S. Agency for International Development hopes quickly to disburse as much as $30 million in aid that was originally destined for Nicaragua but was withheld from the government of former president Anastasio Somoza.
AID has proposed a $10 million grant-- "as much as we could scrape together from every nook and cranny" toward the end of the fiscal year, said an official-- to help with immediate government cash needs. Soft-term loans through commodity grains distributed under the U.S. Food for Peace program are also proposed.
A "very substantial" balance-of-payments credit reportedly is under White House review to allow import of high-priority American items such as fertilizer and farm equipment.
But such programs are expected to run into trouble in the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on foreign operations, chaired by Rep. Clarence Long (D-Md.).
In hearings scheduled for early this month, the subcommittee wants to discuss the revolution's politics. The fear here is that Somoza's friends in Congress, including committee member Charles Wil (D-Tex.), will convince Congress that the Nicaraguan government is too leftist to deserve U.S. aid.
The case that AID and the State Department will be making is that the best way to ensure democracy in Nicaragua is to give the financially strapped government some economic breathing room. At the same time, the United States wants to give Nicaraguan business an opportunity to get back on its feet before its current paralysis becomes permanent.
In both political and economic terms, said a visiting official of an international bank, "we have to give this country a chance. If it has to fail, let it fail on its own failures, not because of us."
So far, the government junta has expropriated Somoza-related property amounting to more than 160 companies and farms, nationalized the banking system and established control over import and export transactions. All of those moves are relatively common in Latin America.
But many Nicaraguans in both the private and government sector agree that if "massive" outside help does not arrive soon, unemployment, hunger and national debt will force the state to take an even more active role.
In a meeting with 17 member nations of the Latin American Economic System (SELA) two weeks ago, the government painted a pessimistic picture.
According to its planning ministry, headed by former Central American Common Market director Roberto Mayorga, Nicaragua's reserves when Somoza left amounted to $3.5 million-- about enough to pay for two days' worth of imports in normal times. Capital flight during 1978 and the first half of this year exceeded $550 million.
The government has announced it will pay all debts contracted by the Somoza government with the exception of two weapons contracts with Israel and Argentina. Debt service is expected to total $800 million by next year.
The balance-of-payments deficit for the end of 1979 could run as high as $1 billion. The gross national product has sunk 25 percent, with per capita income down to 1962 levels.
This means Nicaragua has little cash to meet immediate expenses, and no way to repay outside banks-- from which it now needs credit more than ever.
For a country that imports most of its consumer goods, the debt and future credit situation is critical. Virtually no goods have been imported in the past three months. Nicaragua is living on inventories that local economists estimate will be exhausted in a month.
"To give a minor example the middle-class mind can relate to," said an economist, "Nicaragua is about to run out of toilet paper and there are only three more weeks of toothpaste."
Western aid experts believe the existing commercial debt can be easily renegotiated following recent International Monetary Fund approval of a $21 million loan. "The best way to establish credit worthiness," one aid expert said, "is to be on good terms with the IMF."
At the same time, the Inter-American Development Bank has made assistance to Nicaragua a high priority. An estimated $186 million in IDB funds for specific development projects is expected to be made available.
But while development projects help over the long term, local economists say the biggest need is for cash.
The business community, anxious to assert itself and concerned that loans to the government will take too long to filter down, has launched its own appeal for foreign aid.
Nicaraguan business leaders are to travel to U.S. and other foreign banks to reaffirm lines of private credit and "convince them that Nicaragua is not a high-risk area," as one of them put it.
At the recent SELA meeting here, according to a number of informed observers, the Latin American representatives met the aid appeal with "lots of throat clearing and stares at the table."
While Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala each offered $25 million lines of credit, the terms were nonconcessional. Brazil, Uruguay, Haiti and Argentina said they would study the situation and let the government know.
Panama, one of the revolution's most fervent supporters, said it would provide police uniforms, "10 vehicles and motorcycles" and some technical cooperation.
Venezula, which is still considering a Nicaraguan proposal for two years' worth of cheap oil, has advanced money on what one diplomat described as "semi-hard" terms, offered to buy some Nicaraguan beef and donated 52 scholarships and "one million notebooks and pencils" along with other school equipment.
The offers, a Latin American banking official said, "were a small opening of the door. But then, what can you expect from a lot of nearly bankrupt countries, and some dictatorships that were ready to support Somoza two months ago?"